WOULD YOU MIND CHANGING?
When my mother posed this question, I assumed she intended to take me home and force me to change my clothes. Unfortunately, she asked if I would mind switching from morning kindergarten to afternoon kindergarten.
Like many five-year-olds, I had a limited understanding of how the world functioned.
The following day, I met my new teacher and thirty other students I had never met before. It was jarring, but it helped me prepare for what was to come.
From first grade through twelfth grade, I attended twelve distinct schools. During this span, my parents went through the process of selling our home and purchasing a new one approximately seven times. In neighborhood after neighborhood, I was always the new kid. Constantly odd, out of place, and rootless.
This circumstance shaped my childhood identity. Having never had the chance to learn about friendship or form lasting bonds with other children my age, I had little choice but to become an outcast. The only constants in my life were my guitar, my records, and my books, which I was able to transport from town to town.
On the other hand, school was filled with trauma after trauma. My inability to get along with my peers resulted in bullying, threats, and, when I was old enough, rejection from girls. I may have been able to overcome the challenge of being one of the smallest students in my class if I had sufficient finesse; however, finesse is a quality that does not come naturally to those who are consistently marginalized.
The first time I smoked a blunt, I was 20 years old and in college; looking back, it was a significant event. I felt as if I had been liberated from the chains I had been wearing my entire life the moment I got high. I vowed to never again feel as I once did. This marked the beginning of a 20-year love/hate relationship with illegal substances.
I am unfortunately not an exception. In my nine years of sobriety, the countless NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings I’ve attended, and the volunteer speaking I’ve done in jails and rehabs, I cannot recall a single person saying they started using drugs because it was enjoyable.
As far as I could tell, addiction was a phenomenon that began by accident. It was as if these individuals had been carrying around hundreds of pounds since childhood, and then they discovered a way to finally release it. Once this occurred, it became nearly impossible to recover it.
This is the significant difficulty of recovery. It is not enough to stop putting chemicals into one’s body. It is the complete reconstruction of all coping mechanisms. It is much more complicated than the majority of individuals believe. How else can we explain the unwillingness of so many people to stop, despite facing consequences ranging from prison to death and everything in between?
The director of the Center for Addiction Sciences at the University of Tennessee Health Science Centers College of Medicine, Dr. Daniel Sumrok, has even argued that addiction should be renamed ritualized compulsive comfort-seeking rather than addiction. Sumrok has further attested that this comfort-seeking is a normal reaction to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), similar to how bleeding is a normal reaction to being stabbed.
Throughout my years of volunteering in the field of recovery, I have found this theory to be the most plausible. This is why the War on Drugs in America has failed so miserably. It makes as much sense to incarcerate a substance abuser or alcoholic as it does a person with diabetes or cancer. Even more so than the moral implications of incarcerating the non-violently ill, the fact that 50,000 people die of overdoses annually in the United States should indicate the failure of these policies.
The bottom line is that we need a new perspective on addiction. Punishment has never been effective, and it never will be. If we as a society do not approach this issue with compassion and love, it will never improve.
I myself felt so strongly about putting my empathy into action that I wrote a book in an effort to assist others. According to the Dalai Lama, this is our primary goal in life. If you cannot bring yourself to do that, at least refrain from harming them, the quote continues.
In other words, demonstrate compassion. Addiction is nothing more than a normal reaction to an abnormal circumstance.
This is the severe challenge of recovery.